Turf Blog 12-03-23

Turf Zone – HolyBuccleuch

A message notification appeared on WhatsApp. It was sent to me by arch-turfer and mega-birder Hodge aka Sir Mike of Penicuik. It concerned sighting of a rare bird down in Dalkeith Country Park (DCP). And not just any old bird. Not even a Marks & Spencer bird. Not even Jackie Bird herself. It was nothing less than a Great Grey Shrike. Not a bird I’ve had the pleasure to see. And there’s even more. It was also suggested that I may even be able to view said Great Grey Shrike from within a turf zone, mostly likely zone Restoration.

Now, new readers might be wondering what all this fuss is about. And regular visitors will be thinking, oh my God not again. Whatever, as a bit of a turf-birder myself I devised a set of three unofficial turfing medals involving the identification of different birds from within no more than 10 turf zones. At the moment I have the Birder and Twitcher medals, that’s 10 and 25 species of bird respectively. I’m now working my way towards the Ornithologist medal, requiring a total of 50 species of bird. My count towards the Ornithologist medal stands at 33 species leaving 17 to find and only 3 zones left.

However, before I headed down to DCP, I have a few small tweaks to complete in the newly rebuilt Surly Ogre bicycle. First was to correct an error I made when purchasing parts. I’d bought a new set of Avid BB7 brake callipers on eBay for about £60.00 which seemed a bargain at the time. But all was not as it seemed. At first all was fine until second ride when the brakes were squealing like a train doing an emergency stop. They should not be doing that after one dry-weather cycle. Furthermore, I noticed the inside adjusting wheel did not have any ratchet clicks and the outer wheel kept falling off. Closer inspection strongly suggested this is a clone part and not OEM. Not trusting it I binned them and fitted the old set while I source a genuine set. Live and learn.

Next, I wanted to do some work on the new mudguards. First task was to add a mudflap to the front mudguard. Easy enough to drill a couple of holes and a pop-riveter secured the flap. Second task was to stabilise the rear mudguard as it was too flexible and was catching on the rear tyre on rough ground. Yes, I know, that’s why off-road bikes don’t use full mudguards. Fabricating a small U-shaped bracket between mudguard and rear rack did the trick. Final task was the fabricate a short extension to the front mudguard fork mount as it was too high. Jobs done and ready for turfing.

I grabbed a few zones on the way down to DCP and made straight for zone Restoration. Hanging around for a while did not reveal the Great Grey Shrike and no sign off the hordes of birders and twitchers I would expect at such a sighting. The Great Grey Shrike is an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant to the UK. According the RSPB site, only about 200 are seen in the country each year, so one in Scotland is quite something.

Having “dipped out”, a birding terms for not seeing a rarity, I cycled round the park adding a few more zones – ParkOfSteel, HowlandsPark, LugtonCross, LugtonBrae and DalkeithHouse. At each I waited and listened, scanning with my binoculars but no luck with the Great Grey Shrike. As I was about to leave the park, I decided to chance another look at zone Restoration. Immediately I wheeled down the hill I could see I was in luck. About 20 birders where clustered in the lower car park, a veritable hedgehog of telescopes and long lenses all pointing towards the trees.

To be honest, I felt rather embarrassed with my little Leica 10 x 25 BC binoculars but they would have to do. After about 5 minutes of looking in the same direction as everyone else I still could not see anything. I was about to steel myself to ask someone where it was when the bird flew into full view and perched on a branch in the open. The Great Grey Shrike was “showing well”. Another birding term. I was now a very happy bunny as where the 20 or so other birders in the throng. Not sure what the irate visitors trying to park in the car park made of things but well worth the trip. So, thanks again arch-turfer and mega-birder Hodge aka Sir Mike of Penicuik.

Now, the question of including this bird in my count of species towards my unofficial Ornithologist medal. If I did, I’d be left with only two zones from which to identify a further 16 different bird species. Quite a tall order, I suspect. So, I think I’ll have to leave this one off the list for now but we’ll see what the happens when the summer migrants arrive and I can hopefully increase the count to 50 for that prestigious Ornithologist medal. Back soon.

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